Treasures from the Storeroom: Medieval Religion and the Eucharist

Article excerpt

Treasures From the Storeroom: Medieval Religion and the Eucharist. By Gary Macy. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1999. xxi + 201 pp. $24.95 (paper).

In his introduction to this collection of essays, Gary Macy notes: "these articles provide an important backdrop" to a plenary address that he gave at the 1997 meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America. That address, included as the final essay in this volume, occasioned a minor theological dustup in Commonweal magazine, not least because Macy's address, along with other addresses at the meeting, seemed to call into question traditional Roman Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. Macy offers the essays in this volume as "a fuller presentation of the research underpinning that presentation" (p. xi).

This is not the only reason Macy gives for collecting these essays, but it is perhaps the most pertinent. For while the essays present interesting information and competent scholarship on medieval eucharistic theology and practice, it is impossible to read them without taking into account current Roman Catholic disputes over the Eucharist, the sacraments in general, and, ultimately, the nature of the Church and its claims to be the transmitter of divine revelation. Macy's historical scholarship is at the service of a plea for greater tolerance of theological diversity. As he puts it in the introduction, "the central theological point made again and again" is that "the true tradition of the Church is diversity" (p. xiv). Macy rejects the narrowing down of the past to a normative tradition and celebrates the diversity of theology in the Middle Ages. Specifically, Macy attacks the normative status of the eucharistic theology of Aquinas by showing that, in his "metaphysical" concerns about transubstantiation, Aquinas was a minority figure, and that a "symbolic" and subjective approach to the Eucharist was in fact the more common approach in the Middle Ages. The lesson to be drawn is that the Middle Ages tolerated a diversity of opinions on Eucharistic presence, and thus there is no reason why the Roman Catholic Church today cannot do the same. …